Zelensky Emerges as the Man of the Hour, a Profile in Courage To Inspire the World

If he goes to Minsk (big if), Zelensky had better avoid accepting tea from any of Putin’s henchmen.

President Zelenskyy addresses the nation from Kyiv February 25, 2022. Ukrainian presidential press office via AP

The Ukraine crisis has exposed a global gallery of war criminals, rogues, cads, grifters, cowards, useful idiots, plain idiots — the gamut. Then there’s the man of the hour: Volodymyr Zelensky. 

Make that the entire Kyiv leadership and the people of Ukraine. 

Mr. Zelensky may well be captured, killed, or arrested soon. President Putin now calls on him to get over to Minsk, Belarus, for negotiations. If he goes (big if), Mr. Zelensky had better avoid accepting tea from any of Mr. Putin’s henchmen. They’re known to kill opponents with such spiked beverages.  

“The enemy has marked me as target no. 1, my family as target no. 2,” Mr. Zelensky, clad in plain military garb, told Ukrainians in a televised speech yesterday. Yet, in contrast to Afghan leaders last year, he vowed to remain in the country and urged his people to resist. 

The Kremlin says it put Kyiv under siege to assure “denazification” of the country. That’s a ruse, and Mr. Zelensky — a proud Jew whose ancestors were wiped out in the Holocaust — knows the score. “They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of the state,” he said. 

Often described as a “former comedian,” which he is, Mr Zelensky ran for the presidency in 2019 on a serious platform, promising to clean up the country’s famously corrupt power holders. He won big. 

While on the campaign trail Mr. Zelensky also called for compromise with Russians battling Ukrainian troops on the country’s eastern flank. Once in office, facing a major public pushback, he did a U-turn. Kyiv moved further from under the Russ thumb, tightening ties with the European Union and America. Mr. Zelensky made clear his desire to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.   

After Mr. Putin used NATO expansion as pretext for his invasion, the organization’s appeasers at the top made clear that Ukraine would not join anytime soon — to be understood as “never.”

“Who is ready to give Ukraine a guarantee of NATO membership? Everyone is afraid,” Mr. Zelensky said in his speech. “We’re defending our country alone. The most powerful forces in the world are watching this from a distance.” 

As the West stands aloof, brave Ukrainian warriors battle in the streets against a superior military force. In one Masada-like act of heroism, a Russian battleship demanded 13 Ukrainians stationed on a tiny outcrop in the Black Sea — Snake Island — give themselves up. Their leader, armed with a megaphone, retorted with a curse. All 13 were then murdered and became instant national heroes. 

Following Mr. Zelensky’s call to arms, Ukrainians of all ages get guns, preparing for a long battle with the invader. Kyiv residents, under heavy bombardment, take cover nightly in subway stops, evoking memories of stiff upper-lipped Britons during the Blitz. 

Ukraine’s display of bravery comes from a generation that grew up in the post-Soviet era. They look east, seeing poverty and despair under tyranny. Then they eye their neighbors to the west, seeing free people seeking the good life. The choice is easy and by now is worth fighting for.

Much of it also is a result of a resolute leadership that has excelled under pressure. 

As Ukrainian refugees seek shelter in neighboring countries, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba just drove in after flying back home from hard negotiations in Washington. Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya told his Russian colleague he belonged in “hell.” Kyiv’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, instills in the city’s residents the winning spirit of his former career in the ring, where he shined as a heavyweight boxing champion.

Compare these Ukrainians to other world leaders. 

The key antagonist, Kremlin strongman Vladimir Putin, unilaterally launches a deadly war of conquest to maintain his power at home, feed a coterie of oligarch cronies, and etch his name in history as the bare-chested virile man who returned the mother land’s empire to its former glory. 

The West, led by America, reacts feebly, fetishizes “diplomacy,” and declines to take the initiative. Armed with declassified intelligence, Washington describes events and predicts Mr. Putin’s next moves, as if we were an uninterested narrator of a historical documentary.

Sanctions, meant to deter Russia, fail to register with Mr. Putin. Some on our far left and, even more so, the far right, daily parrot the Kremlin’s talking points. Climate warriors help in oiling Russia’s war machine. A former German chancellor, Gerhard Schroder, is now a Russian oil tycoon. 

As Westerners seek for answers while the world’s totalitarians launch a new Cold War, our future hopes hang on only one mensch. Thank you, Mr. Zelensky.  

The New York Sun

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